For as long as I can remember I have always had a fascination with Hull Prison. My late father conducted work their when he was an industrial cleaner, removing asbestos from the prison in the 1980’s, my sister lived opposite on Hull’s Newtown Buildings, and as a teenager I was a student at David Lister School, just a stones throw away.
Over the years I have met many former inmates, listening to their stories, but it is the history of the building that fascinates me.
Some years ago I started researching the prison. I needed to as a part of the Frederick Bailey Deeming story and for the John Rennard aspect of the Marfleet Murder Mystery.
When Hull Daily Mail announced that the prison would be opening an exhibition in the former Governor’s Residence at the front of the prison I contacted the prison and spoke with Rob Nicholson.
Rob is an amazing guy, what he doesn’t know about the prison is not worth knowing, and together we exchanged research, I ended up sending entire census returns for the prison, lots of material on Frederick Bailey Deeming, and other items.
Eventually the research worked its way into the exhibition, something that I was very proud of.
In later years we filmed Prime Suspect – Jack the Ripper, with Prospero Productions at the main gate.
After that we recorded From Whitechapel to Whitefriargate with BBC Radio Humberside and David Reeves in the exhibition space with Rob.
This week marks the 150th anniversary of the laying of the foundation stone by the Mayor of Hull, Mr. Atkinson, and as such the prison organised a friends and family day.
I had contacted Rob and was granted permission by the governor to join the day, but little did I know, I would get my own exclusive tour with Rob.
What Rob does not know about the prison is not worth knowing. He is a walking encyclopaedia of names, dates, stories, and is a really pleasure to listen to. He also has a wicked sense of humour and is a true gent.
We met at the main gate and whilst the friends and family went in, we admired the original entrance to the prison. It’s massive, and I mean MASSIVE stone entrance is imposing and threatening. We spent some time looking at the right hand side of the main gate. This was where the original notices were put up to announce whether an inmate had been reprieved or hanged. It felt very eerie stood here, knowing that this is where friends and family received word of those that had hanged or whether the Home Office had given them a last minute reprieve.
We waited until the other group walked off, then we headed for the old structure of the prison, the original wing. It was here that we stood and admired the height and stonework. Strange crenellations, mock battlements, and signs in stone of the Hull Corporations Three Crowns adorned the high walls of the building.
“This is the mortuary” he pointed out, to a simple stone structure, “this is where they were stored after they were hanged.” He pointed out as we walked around the building. He also pointed out where those who had sentenced to hang were left for an hour so that death could be officially announced. Leaving we walked in a corridor through the old wings that took us past where the male and female prisoners would have been segregated back in the Victorian period. We passed a series of bricked up doorways and arches, it was fascinating, and as the walkway was open at both ends, the wind blew through and it was actually pretty eerie.
We exited and again admired the structure of the building, with its high walls and metal fittings, where cages stood to allow prisoners to walk between wings.
We again entered the building and went on to one of the wings. My jaw dropped. Such magnificent Victorian architecture, but I was stopped in my tracks by the steel work. The original steelwork in the older Victorian section of the prison was made on site. It still bears the HMP Hull mark, but to see it all was fascinating. We stood and admired the steelwork before Rob took me along the first floor balcony to where the condemned would have made their final journey. We looked at an old bricked up archway, where dignitaries would have gone into the drop room to observe the act, and then we walked around to another room that was like a modern day wash room. Tiles adorned the walls and metal sinks hung off the walls. “This is where they were hanged.”
We stood inside the room for a while, just taking it in, on the spot where ten convicted murderers, had faced their end. Pinioned, hooded, and with noose around their neck, the hangman would send them to their final judgement.
Below us was the room where the deceased would be left for an hour.
We moved on and went up to the next floor before exiting via a large circular room, which is the massive green dome you can see from outside. The ceiling was so high it was breath taking, and again we were surrounded by locally produced steel.
Rob showed me where an escape hatch was situated, no longer in use, but used by officers should they need to escape quickly.
We moved through the prison, visiting the newer wings, passing the site of the old and much talked about “Seven Alleys” and Arnold Lavers Wood yard, now under tons of steel and concrete that form the high walls of the prison.
We entered another wing and at this point Rob left me whilst he logged us in at the office. Whilst I was waiting I met two members of staff, who were sorting books out to take onto the wings for the prisoners. As they sorted the books one fell. I looked at it and instantly recognised the face. It was none other than the death mask of Frederick Bailey Deeming. The book in question was Murders of the Dark Museum by Gordon Honeycomb. What I found fascinating is that Deeming was a former prisoner here for nine months in 1890-1891 for fraud. The book’s author passed away just yesterday, on the 150th anniversary of the laying of the foundation stone at Hull prison. We discussed it and laughed it off, before heading across the wing to where Rob had himself encountered paranormal activity.
On the way back to the main gate we passed the spot where the ten condemned lay.
Arthur Richardson, 25/03/1902, William James Bolton, 23/12/1902, Charles William, 22/12/1903, Thomas Siddle, 04/08/1908, John Freeman, 07/12/1909, William George Smith, 09/12/1924, Robert Ernest Dalton, 10/06/1925, George Michael, 27/04/1932, Roy Gregory, 03/01/1934, Ethel Lillie Major, 19/12/1934.
No plaque, no memorial, no grave, just a “herb garden” remains.
We left by the main gate, once again admiring the old brick work that kept in people like Frankie Fraser, members of the Kray firm, IRA members, Frankie “The Mad Axe Man” Mitchell, Charles Bronson, Frederick Bailey Deeming, Arthur Richardson, William James Bolton, Charles William, Thomas Siddle, John Freeman, William George Smith, Robert Ernest Dalton, George Michael, Roy Gregory, Ethel Lillie Major, John Rennard, and of course Rough, the dog of John Rennard!
Thank you to Rob Nicholson and all the staff at Hull Prison for an amazing day that will stay with me for a long time.